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B. POLEVOI

savoury-smelling tracks, breathed heavily and greedily,
twitched its lean sides and listened. The elk had gone,
but near the place where it had been the bear heard
sounds that seemed to be produced by a living and prob-
ably feeble being. The fur on the bear's withers bristled.
It stretched out its muzzle. And again that plaintive
sound, barely audible, came from the edge of the glade.
Slowly, stepping cautiously on its soft paws, under
the weight of which the hard, dry snow crunched with
a whine, the bear moved towards the motionless human
figure lying half-buried in the snow.

Pilot Alexei Meresyev had been caught in a double
pair of "pincers". It was the worst thing that could
happen to a man in a dog fight. He had spent all his
ammunition when four German aircraft surrounded him
and tried to force him to proceed to their base without
giving him a chance to dodge or change his course.
It came about in this way. A flight of fighter planes
under the command of Lieutenant Meresyev went out to
escort a flight of "Us" that was to attack an enemy
airfield. The daring operation was successful. The
Stormoviks, "flying tanks", as the infantry called them,
almost scraping the pine-tree tops, stole right up to the
airfield, where a number of large transport Junkers were
lined up. Suddenly diving out from behind the grey-blue
pine forest, they zoomed over the field, their machine-
guns and cannons pouring lead into the heavy transport
planes, showering them with rocket shells. Meresyev, who
was guarding the area of attack with his flight of four,
distinctly saw the dark figures of men rushing about the
field, saw the transport planes creeping heavily across
the hard-packed snow, saw the Stormoviks return to the
attack again and again and saw the crews of the Junkers,
under a hail of fire, taxi their craft to the runway and
take them into the air.
It was at this point that Alexei committed his fatal
blunder. Instead of closely guarding the area of attack,
he allowed himself to be "tempted by easy prey", as
airmen call it. He put his craft into a dive, dropped like